Frederic Thornton Peters VC, DSO, DSC, RN

Born  17 Sep 1889Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Died  13 Nov 1942(53)HMS Walney


30 Jul 1909 S.Lt.
30 Jan 1911 Lt.
26 Mar 1920 Lt.Cdr.
17 Sep 1929 Cdr. (retired)
??? A/Capt. (retired)

Retired: 26 Jun 1920


3 Mar 1915 DSO
8 Mar 1918 DSC
11 Jul 1940 Bar to DSC
18 May 1943 VC (posthumous)

Warship Commands listed for Frederic Thornton Peters, RN

HMS Lord Stanhope (FY 163)Cdr. (retired)ASW Trawler2 Oct 193917 Dec 1939
HMS Thirlmere (FY 206)Cdr. (retired)ASW Whaler16 Dec 193924 May 1940
HMS Tynwald (D 69)A/Capt. (retired)Anti-Aircraft ship1 Aug 194124 Aug 1942

Career information

Captain Frederic Thornton "Fritz" Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN, has the rare distinction of receiving multiple awards for valour in each of the world wars. He was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1889, but lived on the other side of Canada in Victoria, British Columbia from age eight until joining the Royal Navy in January 1905 at 15. Peters was nicknamed Fritz by his family because, in Prussian fashion, he was obsessed with all things military from his earliest years.

Peters' military career encompassed three stints of service. After cadet training in 1905, he went to sea as a midshipman with the Channel Fleet, and then service on gunboats and destroyers in the China Station of Weihai before retirement as a lieutenant in 1913. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he rejoined, and served on destroyers, first as senior officer and later as a commander, until retirement as lieutenant commander in 1920. While serving as a lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Meteor in the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915, Fritz was mentioned in dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal for his actions that saved the lives of two ratings when the ship’s engine room was hit by a shell from the German cruiser Blucher. Later in the Great War he took command of destroyers and received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1918 for “showing exceptional initiative, ability and zeal in submarine hunting operations and complete disregard of danger, exceptional coolness and ingenuity in his attacks on enemy submarines.” His navy colleagues particularly admired his courage and skill in hazardous rescues at sea where enemy subs were a constant threat.

Peters spent most of the inter-war years growing cocoa in Gold Coast colony in west Africa, with regular trips back to Britain for reunions with navy buddies. He also manufactured specialized pumps for midget submarines developed by his friend Cromwell Varley, DSO, RN. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he rejoined the Royal Navy, commanding a flotilla of anti-sub trawlers that sank two enemy subs, earning a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross in 1940. He later went back and forth between naval service and work with Section D (for destruction) of Britain`s Secret Intelligence Service, including command of a spy school in Hertfordshire for expatriates who returned to their native countries in Occupied Europe to combat the Nazis.

In 1942 he took charge of what was arguably the most dangerous mission in the Allied invasion of North Africa - an audacious attack by a mostly American force in two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters to secure Oran harbour in the French colony of Algeria for the invasion. Landings at 1 am on Nov. 8, 1942 on beaches west and east of Oran by American troops had met little resistance from French defenders, but two hours later they reacted with full force from Oran shore batteries and warships moored in the harbour when Peters' ship HMS Walney along with HMS Hartland broke through a boom of logs, chains and barges and proceeded towards their goal of taking over French warships and port facilities with commandos. Despite suffering 90% casualties and facing point blank fire from all directions, Peters was able to direct his ship for a mile and a half through the narrow harbour and land Walney beside its target berth. At great personal risk, he assisted with the landing lines in the front and back of the 250 ft.-long ship. Wounded in the shoulder and blinded in one eye, he was taken prisoner along with fellow survivors. Two days later he was freed by American troops who had captured the city, and carried through the streets by residents of Oran in triumph.

Tragically, three days later, on Friday, November 13, 1942 he died when the Sunderland flying boat transporting him from Gibraltar back to England encountered fierce headwinds and then heavy fog and instrument failure that resulted in the plane crashing into Plymouth Sound, flipping over and splitting apart. The 11 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crew members miraculously survived the crash, but Peters and the four other VIP passengers died, either from the impact of the crash or from exposure in the water. Unhurt in the crash, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Wynton Thorpe, found Peters still alive in the water and valiantly tried to drag him to safety as he swam to a breakwater, giving up in exhaustion after about an hour when it was obvious that Peters was dead. A rescue boat from shore arrived about half an hour later to pick up survivors. In the darkness, Peters' body sank to the bottom of the sound. For her son's heroism at Oran, Berth Peters of Nelson, British Columbia posthumously received, as next-of-in, both the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the highest honour the Americans bestowed on foreigners. In 1985 a Plymouth recreational diver spotted the wreckage of the flying boat. The recovered propeller is now on display at an RAAF museum in Perth, Australia. Peters is remembered along with other British sailors of all ranks lost at sea at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial in England. In Charlottetown there is a large display honouring Peters in the Veterans Affairs building. A mountain in Nelson, British Columbia was named in his honour in 1946. (submitted by greatnephew Sam McBride, author of The Bravest Canadian Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars)

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